Define What You Mean by Paperless

Before setting a goal to make your dental office paperless, define what “paperless” means in the context of your practice. Often, what is referred to as paperless is really chartless. If you are still planning to use walkout statements, patient education brochures, and appointment reminder cards, you will continue to use paper.  Your vision of paperless can have a huge impact on your budget, time commitment, and equipment and software needs.

All of your decisions will be based on what practice management system you have in place. On average, practices take 12-18 months to implement the components of a paperless office, including practice management software, imaging, operatory computers, hardware, other digital technologies, and security measures. All components are inextricably linked. For instance, you could spend $15,000 on digital imaging software, but more than double that amount on hardware updates needed to support it.

Dr. Lavine warns that:

“The key factor here is that you should do things in stages. Choose one system that you want to add, get comfortable with that, and once everyone is at that level of comfort, move on to the next step. There’s no magic bullet … it has to be thought out in advance, almost like a treatment plan.”

The cost that many practices end up shortchanging themselves on is training. With significant hints of government incentives provided to those who not only adopt electronic medical and dental records before 2014, but use them in a meaningful way, training is a worthwhile return on investment. Any time workflows change, training can reduce problems before they arise and reduce overall time and effort spent, as well as allowing staff to be competent around patients!

Lessons Learned:

  • Define what paperless means in your practice.
  • All paperless technology depends on the practice management system and should be planned out in advance.
  • Don’t short change yourself on system training costs, particularly if you are seeking to qualify for government incentive payments for meaningful use of electronic health records.

Lavine, Lorne (2010) What would it take for my practice to go paperless? Dentistry IQ